Friday, September 27, 2013

Five great Pinterest boards from five Hamilton educators

Since its inception, Fridays on Twitter have been full of tweets encouraging the following of others. Today, we'll take #FollowFriday over to Pinterest as I share five great pinners who I get to work with each week here in Hamilton, Michigan.

Jill Sloothaak, Kindergarten - Literature Extensions Sloothaak

On this board Jill is collecting all kinds of activities to use with the books she and her kids are reading in her class. Some of my favorites are for the books featuring Pete the Cat.

Brooke Vruggink, First Grade - Math

VrugginkBrooke has close to 100 great ideas for making math come alive for her first graders. I love spending time in her and teaching partner Megan Reilly's classrooms. The creativity they bring to teaching and the accountable talk they teach their students to use really build dynamic environments.

Kristi Zoerhof, First Grade - School Treasures

ZoerhofThis board really lives up to its name as it pushes nearer and nearer to 2100 pins. Kristi is a pretty amazing educator and was my partner on the Sony Xperia Case study I featured last Spring. Her stuff on Pinterest is great and so are the resources she shares via @KristiZoerhof. She also tweets with her kids at @MrsZFabFirsties.

Teisha Struik-Kothe, K-5 Principal - School Ideas


Here is one for the administrators, especially the elementary ones. Teisha brings a special flair to Blue Star and always has resources at her fingertips to share with the staff. If you are interested in developing academic vocabulary Teisha has lots of knowledge and her board features great activities.

Jodi Hansen, Fourth Grade - School

If you are an upper elementary teacher and need new ideas for language arts, this board has you covered with all kinds great techniques. Some of the neatest things I have found  that Jodi has pinned involves communicating with parents. She does a great job building that school-to-home connection.

I am a pretty lucky educator to work with these five people 2 1/2 days a week at two different schools. There are a lot of other great educators in Hamilton. These are just a handful.


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Spend a little time on design...and gain a lot

[caption id="attachment_273" align="alignleft" width="300"]logos designed by 4th and 5th graders logos designed by 4th and 5th graders[/caption]

For too long we have pushed creativity and artistic design in school off to the Friday afternoon back burner or for when the important "core" work was complete. There is a lot though in fostering creative projects that feeds directly into enhancing mathematical and literary pursuits.

This year our fourth and fifth graders are working in groups of four or five on a very lofty goal. Each team will cover a number of different school events from classroom activities to field trips to the Fun Night carnival. The groups will produce multimedia news segments that ultimately will be compiled into one long video yearbook.

In order to insure that we meet our "Real artists ship" mantra the students and I have flipped our mindset from treating our time together like school and instead treating it as if we are all working at video production companies. The first task was to form a production company name, complete with a logo.

The students' learning target was "I can create a company name and logo that convey intended feelings." We began by looking at a number of existing artistic companies' names and logos like those from Pixar, Dreamworks, Orion, Warner Brothers, and Bad Robot. Next as a class we discussed what feelings these names and trademarks elicit. The outcomes of inference as well as an understanding of "visual grammar" were immediate. As teams got to brainstorming, these concepts were front and center as each group paid close attention to what type of feelings would be associated with their potential names and designs.

From a teaching standpoint, I made several rounds to check on each group's progress and constantly challenged each team with questions like "If I had $3,000,000 to invest in a serious film about slavery ending in the 1860's would I choose a company called the 'Flaming Fireballs'?" There were some groups that started waaaaaay out past the left field bleachers but I eventually reeled them into at least short left field. As more and more teams honed in on a name we switched gears to designing logos. Each team had to create an old-fashion crayon and pencil concept that was our digital starting point as I conferenced intensely with each group.  I consistently helped teams simplify and asked, "What if?" seemingly over and over again. This was my chance to teach in small groups advanced Keynote techniques. I didn't want to override their creativity with my own but offered a suggestion here and there that most students really didn't know was possible. On many occasions I would add something as a demo and then delete it after showing it. Next,  I would leave the group to check on others. This allowed the group I had just left time to decide whether that was something to recreate themselves or stick with an original idea. The completion of each design was an electric moment for the kids and me.

In purely random order, here are some of the concepts and skills students developed and benefits experienced during this process.

  • Collaboration

  • Accountable Talk

  • Showing rather than telling

  • The way different fonts and colors affect a message

  • Math concepts like proportions and scale

  • An appreciation for the work

  • An escape from the way school is always "done"

  • Creative expression

  • Compromise

  • Motivation to tackle a big task

  • Fun

The concepts of design and creativity may not show up explicitly written in any curriculum manual but spending a little bit of time on it will prepare students to tackle any part of the Common Core with the mindset of someone working on projects at Apple, Google, or Herman Miller. They will bring a keen eye and will expect to create with excellence.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Crash Course in Keynote for Elementary Kids

I am super excited that our school district has replaced Microsoft Office with iWork '09 on our student laptops. As a teacher, the more simplified interface in Pages and Keynote makes teaching so much easier compared to trying to navigate the many toolbars in Office.

Here are some of my favorite techniques that make Keynote such a valuable tool. It is fabulous as a presentation maker, but the true magic comes out when we explore the layout and design capabilities as well as Keynote's potential as a video editing application.

Here are 21 minutes of how-to instructions. Have fun with Keynote. Your only limitation is your own creativity.


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Being a Connected Educator is my teaching life support system

I can hardly remember what teaching was like before social media. Twitter runs on my laptop all day long through Tweetdeck. My contacts are organized by education, local, friends, news, and sports. It is a constant stream of ideas, reflections, and life experiences.

Every day I get a list of links and new apps to try. I have instant answers to teaching's seemingly un-answerable questions. All I have to do is ask. I try to give back as much as possible by sharing techniques and resources I find helpful and offering up the occasional "don't bother" on websites that seemd promising but bombed with the kids. Bob Sprankle was one of the first educator I followed as I got connected. He talked way back in the day about "Professional Learning Network currency", essentially the idea that the more you contribute the more you will benefit.

Take a look at this video featuring many edtech all-stars as they better explain how impactful being connected can be. Get connected this month at

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

How I spent my summer vacation, 1 Second Everyday

Without a doubt, the single greatest tool I took away from Steve Dembo's 2013 MACUL Conference closing keynote was the 1 Second Everyday app for both iOS and Android devices. The app basically provides you a calendar where you select one second snippets of video shot on specific days. The interface lets you then compile all of the snippets into one video.

Here is my modern answer to the "What I did on my Summer Vacation" writing prompt. The 1 Second Everyday app allowed me to capture  and create a fabulous compilation of memories. It is amazing how just one second can allow you to relive so many other associated memories.

Dean Shareski challenged us at the Discovery Educator Network Summer Institute to "be mindful" and this app really allowed me to focus on making each day special and to record and share the most special moments. is my summer. Thanks to all who shared a little of their summers with us.